Though they were the smallest school in the competition, that didn’t stop the Cedarville Army ROTC Rangers team from taking first place at the Brigade Ranger Challenge held at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 4.
The team was led by junior co-commanders Andy Arreguin and Dani Lesko. Other members of the team were seniors Nate Mason and Scott Grimes, junior Victoria Collett, sophomores James Barber, Zach Ashley, Jacob Schlichtmann, and freshmen Ethan McCall, Jake Williamson, and Daniel Heiple.
The team won Task Force, the local competition, on October 13 before going on to win against 17 schools at Brigade, the regional competition.
“It was crazy,” Grimes said. “We thought we had gotten at least third. When they said [we were first] none of us could believe it. That was a crazy moment. We were all super ecstatic when we walked on stage. I don’t think anyone quite understood it or realized we had won until later.”
The cadets beat Michigan State University–which won Brigade last year–and other state schools for the rank. The top school from each of the eight brigades moves on to Nationals in the spring. The competition narrows down 167 schools to only eight within the span of a few weeks.
Taking advice from previous commanders, Lesko and Arreguin split up their tasks in planning, training and execution to improve accountability of cadets, motivate morale, and promote organization.
McCall attributed the team’s success to the duo’s leadership.
“They were always in a positive mood during the training or on each mission site,” McCall said. “When we were dead tired they always kept pushing us on. The atmosphere they created made it feel more like a family, and just being able to push alongside my brothers and sisters made the success so much better.”
The main events of the two-day competition tested the team’s military skills and physical endurance with 5 mile ruck marches, when they run with 50 pounds on their backs, as well as written mental tests, Casualty Evacuation, Murph (a Crossfit workout), tug-of-war, land navigation, obstacle courses and a one-rope bridge.
The team had one of the fastest times at both the local and regional competitions with the one-rope bridge, getting all the cadets across the rope with their gear in under four minutes. In the ruck march, McCall placed second against 162 cadets, with Mason coming in seventh.
“The final ruck march, the mental aspect of it, was one of the hardest things I have had to overcome,” McCall said, “We had already rucked 16-18 miles that day, and I knew the pain I would have to endure to finish it. They didn’t even tell us how long it was.”
New events are added on each year; many of which are unknown to the cadets until the day of the competition, such as hatchet throwing or Are we there yet?.
During the event Are we there yet?, cadets were dropped off at an unknown location, from which they had to use just a map and compass to find their way back.
The challenges at Sandhurst, the national competition, are even more demanding with events like zodiac water crossing, marksmanship with M4s and M9s, rappelling and more. Sandhurst will be held at West Point on April 12-13.
Along with the eight ROTC teams competing are domestic and international military schools like West Point, the Coast Guard Academy and teams from Afghanistan, Japan, Germany and others.
Cedarville’s team will not only be competing to become the top ROTC school, but also top team all-around.
“If you want something, don’t be afraid to aim for it,” Lesko said. “Victory is not a guarantee, but a gift. The ability to do the work, to put in the time, and to breathe each breath is a gift. And each step we take and breath we can breathe is an act of praise to the one who knows and guides our steps.”